(CVE-71: dp. 7,800; l. 512'3"; b. 65'; ew. lOl'l"; dr. 22'6" ; s. 19 k.; cpl. 860; a. 1 5" ; 16 40mm., 20 20mm., 28 ac.; cl. Casablanca: T. S4-S2-BB3)
An Alaskan Bay on the southeast coast of Prince of Wales Island.
Kitkun Bay, originally designated as an AVG, was classified as ACV-71 on 20 August 1942 and reclassified as CVE-71 on 15 July 1943. Laid down 3 May 1943 she was launched 8 November 1943 by Kaiser Shipbuilding Co., Inc., Vancouver, Wash., under a Maritime Commission contract; sponsored by Mrs. Edward A. Cruise; and commissioned 15 December 1943, Captain J. P. Whitney in command.
After a shakedown along the Pacific coast, Kitkun Bay departed San Diego 28 January 1944 on a replenishment voyage to the New Hebrides bases. After loading passengers, planes, and other cargo, she sailed for home 18 February via Pearl Harbor and arrived San Diego 6 March. Upon her return, the planes of VC-5 were brought aboard for training and assignment. With Rear Admiral Harold B. Salada, Commander, Carrier Division 26 embarked, she sailed 1 May for Pearl Harbor and the completion of her training exercises.
On 31 May her task unit sortied forth to escort the bombardment and transports units of Task Group 52.17 to Saipan. On 13 June her planes shot down their first enemy aircraft and the next day "began the bombing and strafing of enemy positions in the Marianas. Kitkun Bay's planes alternated flying support missions for the Saipan landings and air cover for ships east of this island. Eight enemy planes were splashed in attacks on her formation on the 17th and her own guns downed three more the next day. Early July brought a brief respite at Eniwetok but 14 July she resumed support sorties at Saipan, Tinian, and from 2 to 4 August at Guam.
Withdrawn, she steamed to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, for upkeep before sailing to the Solomons for additional practice in support of amphibious operations. Heading westward on 8 September her task unit escorted an assault force to Peleliu and Angaur Islands in the Palaus group and provided cover from the 15th to 21st. Withdrawn to Manus, Admiralty Islands, she made preparations for the invasion of Leyte, P.I., and her finest hour.
Departing 12 October she soon joined Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's task unit "Taffy 3" composed of 6 CVE's and their screen of escorts. On 20 October Kitkun Bay began launching strikes against Leyte. These operations conducted from a position east of Samar Island continued until early in the morning of the 25th when Japanese warships were sighted on the northwest horizon. Admiral Kurita's powerful Center Force had passed through the San Bernadino Straits unnoticed, hoping to destroy the supply ships off Leyte. Not designed to exchange gunfire with surface warships "Taffy 3" launched what planes were ready and turned southward behind a smoke screen. In the ensuing 2%-hour running battle, the courageous maneuvers and skillful action of its screen, the diverting attacks by its planes, the astute orders of its command officers averted annihilation. In the forefront of the circular formation Kitkun Bay escaped any direct hits as the shells splashed ever closer until 0925 when the enemy suddenly broke off the engagement and retired. The less fortunate Gambier Bay and three escort ships went down fighting valiantly; while suffering some gunfire damage, the Center Force lost three cruisers as a result of the attacks of the aircraft of "Taffies 2 and 3."
The final phase of the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf was the retaliatory air strikes by both sides. Before the "Forenoon" watch had expired, Kitkun Bay had splashed a suicidal Betty but had also been crashed by a Zeke which struck the port catwalk killing 1 man and wounding 16. The losses for the day also included two planes and their crews. The next day she sailed for Manus in the Admiralty Islands for replenishment and repairs.
Arrived 1 November, she departed Manus the 7th for Pearl Harbor where VC-5 was replaced by VC-91. Despite a submarine attack en route, Kitkun Bay returned safely to Manus 17 December. New Year's Day 1945 dawned with CVE-71 steaming as part of Task Unit 77.4.3 (Lingayen Transport Cover Group) bound for the invasion of western Luzon. After passing through Surigao Straits, the convoy underwent a series of air attacks. Air cover destroyed seven enemy planes but at 1857 an Oscar got through and crashed Kitkun Bay's portside amidships at the waterline. Almost simultaneously a 5-inch shell struck her starboard side. The resultant fires and flooding were brought under control but 16 were dead and 37 wounded. The following day with a list and only one engine operating she withdrew and proceeded by stages first to Leyte, Manus, Pearl Harbor and arrived San Pedro, Calif., 28 February.
Two months later she sailed again for the Western Pacific. After a training period in the Hawaiian Islands, she departed 15 June for Ulithl and duty with the 3d Fleet. On 3 July Kitkun Bay sortied forth with other escorts and ships of the "train" for support of the fast carriers operating off the coast of Japan. Mid-August she was reassigned to Task Force 44 gathering at Adak, Alaska, to escort Admiral F. J. Fletcher, COMNORPAC, who had been designated to receive the formal surrender of the Japanese in northern Honshu and Hokkaido. Arrived off Honshu 7 September, she remained in the area until the 27th, seeing to the feeding and transportation of American prisoners of war. Detached to participate in Operation "Magic-Carpet," she first debarked 554 troops at San Francisco 19 October. Additional voyages to Pearl Harbor and Okinawa concluded 12 January 1946 at San Pedro, Calif.
Kitkun Bay entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, 18 February and decommissioned 19 April. Sold 18 November 1946 to Zidell Machinery & Supply Co., Portland, Oreg., she was scrapped early in 1947,
In addition to the Presidential Unit Citation Kitkun Bay earned six battle stars during World War II.